Keto isn’t just for weight loss, research suggests the diet could also protect against flu

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images
Getty Images

Related tags ketogenic Influenza Protein Immune cells ketones T cells MCT

A new study found that the high-fat, low-carb diet activates the release of immune system cells that trap the virus before it spreads.

Researchers at Yale University found that mice fed a ketogenic diet were able to fight off the flu virus better than the mice eating a high-carb diet, resulting in a higher survival rate. 

Cells produced mucus in the cell linings of the lung and trapped the virus 

The research was published in the journal Science Immunology​. It found that the keto diet activated the release of immune cells called gamma delta T cells, which produce mucus in the cell linings of the lung. This enhanced mucus production from airway cells trapped the virus, while the high-carbohydrate diet did not yield the same protection. 

The keto diet forces the body into a metabolic state known as ketosis, which starves the body of carbohydrates, but not calories. The diet avoids carbs because they cause the body to produce glucose, which is used as energy over fat. Keto diets result in weight loss because they make the body burn fat as its primary energy source.

"This study shows that the way the body burns fat to produce ketone bodies from the food we eat can fuel the immune system to fight flu infection,"​ said co-senior author Visha Deep Dixit, the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Comparative Medicine and of Immunobiology. 

When mice were bred without the gene that codes for gamma delta T cells, the ketogenic diet provided no protection against the influenza virus.

By characterizing the immune response in the lungs, the authors identified that keto diet promoted the expansion of gamma delta T cells in the lungs. Using mice lacking gamma delta T cells, the authors established the functional importance of these cells in conferring protection. Their findings suggest that the immune cells improve barrier function in the lungs by modifying the airway in the cell lining. 

Cashing in on keto 

The keto diet was named the most popular consumer diet for 2019, according to more than 1,300 dietitians surveyed in the 7th annual “What’s trending in nutrition”​ report from Pollock Communications and Today’s Dietitian.​  

With a growing number of consumers going keto, manufacturers are cashing in by launching a number of low-carb, high fat products such as supplements and beverages. 

After a downward spiral, SlimFast re-entered the weight-loss game earlier this year by introducing SlimFast Keto. The products follow the keto trend with a high fat/medium protein formula and medium-chain triglycerides derived from coconut. The protein is delivered from whey and grass fed collagen. Carbohydrates are kept low with the use of erythritol and stevia as sweeteners. The line includes bars, shakes and fat bombs. 

Other keto-friendly products include Giant Sports International Cheesecake Keto Shake, Kiss My Keto Collagen and MCT Powder, Keto Chow Meal Replacement Shake, Orgain Keto Collagen Protein Powder with MCT Oil, and Ketologie Keto Shake, just to name a few. 

Some of the common ingredients in the above shakes include macronutrient whey protein, medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) for fuel, caffeine for cognitive function and physical performance, bovine collagen for binding body tissue together, and probiotics for gut health and an immune system boost. 

The global keto diet market size is poised to grow by $1.11 billion during 2019-2023, according to a recent report by Technavio.


Science Immunology  

15 Nov 2019: Vol. 4, Issue 41 DOI: 10.1126/sciimmunol.aav2026

"Ketogenic diet activates protective γδ T cell responses against influenza virus infection"

Authors: E. Goldberg, et al

Related topics Research

Related news

Show more

Follow us


View more